Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Personal Asides: A Review of “Sun-Times” Editorials…A Review of Jack Higgins’ Cartoons in the “Sun-Times”…Carol Marin’s Excellent “Sun-Times” Column…John Kass’ Great “Tribune” Column on the Bears…And Trivia Contributor Terry Przybylski.


Whether or not you agree with the Chicago “Sun-Times” which is an almost shameless Democratic party newspaper of record, its editorials are firm, clear-cut, un-evasive, not meandering not namby-pamby…which is the most important thing for an editorial to be. Congratulations to Steve Huntley and his crew. Here are summaries of last week’s crop.

Fattening the top won’t help County Board cut its budget. The reasoning goes thus—while (a) Todd Stroger deserves praise for demanding other elected officials live within the county’s means, “it’s not clear he has gotten the message himself. He’s hardly leading by example when he promotes friends like Cedric Giles or Carmen Triche-Colvin, wife of is best friend and gives them huge raises. Or when he hands out double-digit raises to high-level bureaucrats whle demanding front-line troops take it on the chin. Follow through with (a): If Devine and Dart can’t make do with existing revenue, are they prepared to ask the public for higher taxes? Good reasonable thinking except for (b). The choice is not taking the Stroger budget or asking for tax hikes—it’s much more complex than that. There are far more nuances that involve some cuts, some back-and-forth from Stroger, failure to acknowledge which indicates some editorial-writing naivete. But by and large, a well-presented, clear-cut statement for the reader to chew on.

Grade: A+. So much better than the “Tribune” editorial on the same subject, it’s breathtaking. The “Trib” basically took the coward’s way out: let’s wait and see. The “Sun-Times” editorial shows an informed prescience that tracks with its generally excellent news coverage.


A success story that hits home. Jennifer Hudson, a Dunbar high school girl got a Golden Globe award for best supporting actress. She could have faded from sight after losing on “American Idol” but didn’t, citing what she was told by her mother: “What God has in store for you, He has in store for you.” Notwithstanding the ambiguity of the Mom’s comment…something like “Ce Serra Serra” it is refreshing that the newspaper fully praised the spiritual significance of Hudson’s rise which shows it hasn’t entirely forgotten middle-class values…as distinct from the “Tribune” which is almost uniformly secular in line with its New York Times-wanna be status.

Grade: A. Excellent positioning for a light editorial with a refreshing sense of semi-spirituality.


Mandatory sentences put justice behind bars. Two years ago a district judge in Utah, appointed by President Bush, had to put a marijuana dealer away for 55 years because he was found with a gun in his possession—reflecting mandatory minimum sentences passed by the Congress. The automatic sentences were imposed when inner cities were riddled with crack-cocaine crimes. The Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t scheduled any hearings on the subject but it should reconsider.

Grade: A. Notwithstanding that I tend to disagree with the brunt of the editorial, it is crisp, educative and courageous with no meandering or evasion.


Felon candidates give logic a run for its money. Opposition to the decision by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners allowing two aldermen convicted on federal crimes while in office to run again for the City Council. Election commissioners interpreted a state law banning felons from running for municipal office as unconstitutional because it does not apply to those running for other levels of government. Lawmakers in Springfield need to rewrite the law to make it applicable and the election commissioners should hang their heads in shame, says the editorial. It should have specified that it need not have been so permissive since its role is not to interpret state law as a judicial body but to enforce it. But the editorial goes on to recommend the legislature redress this permissive nonsense and apply the law equally.

Grade A. Well done, well-written and almost 100% precision.


Tarnished Congress may need independent ethics watchdog. A well-researched editorial as far at goes but with a dubious conclusion—that an “independent” agency should be created to report to the two Houses. It’s one of those things that sounds good in newspaper editorial-ese but would remove accountability from the Congress to face up to its own misdeeds; does not answer how an “independent” agency would be formed. Actually, the system works with the glaring spotlight placed on Denny Hastert and his Illinois staff of Republican cover-up stumblebums and John Shimkus who tried to slip one by the bipartisan ethics committee by not leveling with the Democratic members. The Mark Foley matter embarrassed the Republicans and played no small measure in the defeat of the GOP House—so no “independent agency” or anything like it is needed to move accountability a step away from the elected members. Let them squirm under the spotlight of their own accountability. However this grading doesn’t reflect whether or not I agree with the editorial’s findings (which in this case I don’t). The editorial is concise, persuasive but rather superficial in grasp.

Grade C. Pop view that what is needed is yet another board or commission to supervise as a cure-all. This comes closer to being a “Tribune’ editorial.

All the same, congratulations “Sun-Times” for cogency!

Jack Higgins.

Jack Higgins, the “Sun-Times” editorial page cartoonist, is an unalloyed delight and is one of the finest cartoonists in the country (notwithstanding that I don’t agree with him on his treatment of President Bush). He ranks with the best of the Chicago genre: John T. McCutcheon, Cary Orr and Joe Parrish of the old “Tribune,” Vaughan Shoemaker, Cecil Jennings of the old “Daily News,” Bill Mauldin in the sadly greatly missed old “Sun-Times” and often with Herblock, the late Washington “Post” legend with some of the raw power of a Fitzpatrick of the old St. Louis “Post Dispatch” thrown in. Higgins has bite, superb drawing skill, a lusty sense of humor, a dash of the poet. He is, in essence, a Chicago treasure. It is a mark of the “Tribune’s” inability to form a conclusion that it has not been able to hire a cartoonist of its own because cartooning mandates clear, firm opinion which the “Tribune” in its weasel-stage cannot abide. That such talent as Higgins’ is rare can be demonstrated by the “Washington Post’s” inability to follow Herblock with someone not nearly as good, a blunt instrument rather than a rapier…and a dreadful artist as well—Toles…which makes Higgins at this stage the premier cartoon-satirist of the country. Many don’t match; none exceed.

If the “Post” thinks Toles can hack it with the weird little hieroglyphics of a tiny figure with huge ears representing Bush, it’s wrong. But beyond lamentable lack of artistry, Toles misses fundamental irony and comes across as an obtuse neighborhood spray-can artist exhibiting his lack of finesse on a brick wall. Higgins is so much better he defies comparison.

Like McCutcheon, Higgins has his own set of values that are distinctive from the “Sun-Times’” boilerplate, predictable lefty Obama-worshiping liberalism. It is a mark of the maturity of the “Sun-Times” that it allows him to practice full-sway. No other cartoonist is more reminiscent of McCutcheon to my mind than Higgins. An exemplar of McCutcheon’s genius applied to the tragedy of war. He did it in four separate panels—in color when color was rarely used in newspaper cartoons. The first panel showed a verdant farmer’s field of green with the caption: “Green are the fields in peace.” The second panel showed same field littered with dying soldiers in battle with blood and carnage, the caption: “Red are the fields in war.” The third panel showed the field teeming with widows in mourning dresses with the caption: “Black are the fields when cannons cease.” The final panel—the clincher—showed the field filled with thousands of white crosses with the caption: “And white forevermore.” That one cartoon by itself mobilized a peace movement in the late 1930s with majesty. Higgins has the same earthquake-producing power…and as a young man, his full fruition cometh.

< Let’s take a look at some of the recent Higgins cartoons.

“To step back from Iraq now would tear the country apart!” are the words coming from George W. Bush via a TV propped on rubble as Iraqis listen in wonderment surrounded by carnage. This has all the power of a Herblock cartoon: great drawing and superb irony.

Grade A. More effective than many editorials on Iraq…reminiscent of Mauldin’s famous cartoon of a WWII GI walking by a shattered house in France as a bereaved woman sweeps up, him looking at her with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, saying, “Don’t look at me, lady, I didn’t do it!” Higgins has the same irony.


Untitled: Obama is wading ashore with his exploratory committee supported by Columbus, sword in hand discovering America. Brilliant, prescient and extraordinarily persuasive with very creative linkage of America’s prime explorers with this historic exploratory committee of Illinois’ junior senator.

Grade A+. Better than anything else drawn about Obama, it is Higgins’ genius at its best, with adroit linkage of the famous Obama surf photo with his historic campaign. .


“OK, Sen. Clinton, here’s your `phased redeployment.’ Get out there and lead them!” This not only is a masterful cartoon but is the height of political sophistication, encompassing Hillary’s problem—a party run by the left which could well run her down since she is trying to occupy the center on the Iraq problem.

Grade A. In a few pencil strokes, the dilemma of the former First Lady is graphically shown.

Carol Marin.

Probably no journalist except Cathleen Falsani has taken it on the chin more from this reviewer than Carol Marin, the “Sun-Times” political columnist—and for good reason…but let’s not get into that. In a stunning break from the past, on Sunday Marin coldly laid out the distinctions between the budget-cutting of essential county services by Todd Stoger and the bloated pay received by political hangers-on. The column was a distinct public service and was by far the best thing Marin has done. Why the best? Because it didn’t contain the idealistic school-girl musing about liberal impossibilities and economic heresies (her support of the Big Box ordinance comes to mind where she advocated a separate minimum wage for those working in the big stores with no relevance whatever to laws of economics or the startling reality of the poor risking being laid off because this multi-millionaire ex-TV anchor feels guilty about their low wages—hence found something proletarian to write about. The hope now with this superb column is that Marin has finally made the transition between a gut-whimpering hemophiliac liberal and an analyst. She always had the stuff inside her and now she shows it. With a New Year’s start-off like this, Marin shows us that possibly 2007 will evoke a sharp distinction from the past. Congratulations to her because with this column she pulls herself into the top echelon of astute commentary. It’s thrilling to see her poised on the brink of a really distinguished career in newspaper column-ing.

Grade A. And a bright future may well beckon.

John Kass.

Those who moon about the myth that there will never again be another Mike Royko are right—because the image of the soused tough-guy newspaper columnist with a cigarette dangling from his lips is a relic of the past. Royko was a fey-character, often a mindless entertainer who stooped to grovel to the pits by writing nihilistic stuff not up to his potential of true greatness exemplified by his “Mary and Joe.” John Kass, the daily columnist of the “Tribune” does what Royko did but much better by adding a bottom line that certifies his views which is what a columnist should do. He is every bit as world-savvy as Royko but has figured out what he stands for and what the city believes—far more so than Royko who rarely got beyond the role of make-believe bad-boy with a shrug at values. Kass is truly one of the best columnists in Chicago history and is truly a practitioner for the ages. The column I cite is one of his best—telling New Orleans that Chicago is not willing to accept the “sponge” as substitute for adroit athletics.

Grade A+. Another distinguished Chicago-ese commentary in a long line of A’s.

…and Terry’s Teaser.

Terry Przybylski is the official brain-teaser-editor of this web-site. Here’s his question: Of the 43 presidents of the United States, whose father was a member of the Knight of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization. Careful—the answer isn’t whom you may guess.


  1. My guess would be Ronald Reagan, whose father, if I am not mistaken, was a Catholic.

  2. Got to go with WPD-
    Sorry, I was tagged out without paying attention, to all the Chicago paper BS. You folks who love BS, see /read some really stupid foul journalistic buggery try the New Haven Register (Yale) and the Hartford Courant (every other left-wing overpriced sack of nolearning "college" in the NE-)
    If it wasn't for my dear little wife, I'd read THE WANDERER and INVESTORS BUSINESS DAILY and THE SPORTING NEWS.

  3. The Tribune sometimes runs his biting editorial cartoons.